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JJett & JVentre Collaborations

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:  John Jett, PhD, and Jeffrey Ventre, MD, met at SeaWorld of Florida in 1992, where they worked together as marine mammal trainers, collecting over a dozen years of experience. They've been friends since then, having a respect for nature, science, animals & IPA. Working directly with killer whales & other captive mammals in a theme park was the catalyst for speaking publicly against the conditions & consequences of captivity. John is a visiting research professor at Stetson University. He has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Environmental Science and a PhD in Health and Human Performance with an emphasis on waterway management and marine mammal conservation issues. Jeff is a board certified medical doctor in the specialty of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). He treats patients with physical impairments from back pain & stroke, to spinal cord & brain injuries. In 1996 Jeff joined Ken Balcomb & Dr. Astrid van Ginneken for Orca Survey, a photo identification study of the the Southern Resident population of Killer Whales in the Pacific Northwest. John & Jeff's first article, "Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivitywas submitted to The Orca Project in January of 2011, is available in Spanish, and has been viewed > 200K times. This unpublished report introduced or expanded on topics such as jaw popping, social strife, teeth damage, chronic over-medication, abnormal diet, dorsal fin collapse, inbreeding, mean duration of captivity, and more. A pulpotomy is described. The material below is in reverse chronological order. 

October 2017: "Tooth damage in captive orcas (Orcinus orca)"  is a collaborative peer reviewed paper by:  

This article describes the paper:  Captive Orca Whales Are So Bored They're Destroying Their Teeth

by George DvorskyToday 12:04pm

An investigation into the oral health of captive orca whales is raising serious concerns about the health and welfare of these majestic creatures. Out of boredom and frustration, many of the whales turn to chewing on concrete and steel tank surfaces, causing wear and tear that leads to further problems.

An international team of researchers has completed the first detailed investigation of the dental health of captive orca whales, finding damage in all of the whales studied. It’s the first time that a quantitative study has evaluated the health status of individual teeth—not just for marine parks, but for the zoological community in general. Disturbingly, much of the damage observed was self-inflicted—but a likely consequence of orca confinement. In the new paper, published this week in Archives of Oral Biology (press link for complete article). 

Tooth damage in captive orcas (Orcinus orca)

May 2015: A collaborative chapter by Drs Jeffrey Ventre & John Jett on the topic of killer whales in captive environments. This represents the Chapter 8 of the university Textbook, "Animals & Tourism, Understanding Diverse Relationships," edited by Dr. Kevin Markwell.

DESCRIPTION: This book is the first to critically examine the many ways in which tourism and animals intersect, whether as tourist attractions, wildlife conservation tools, as travel companions or as meat to be eaten. It aims to make a meaningful contribution to the growing body of knowledge concerning the relationships between animals, tourists and the tourism industry. The chapters are organised into three themes: ethics and welfare; conflict, contradiction and contestation; and shifting relationships. Theoretically informed and empirically rich, the chapters examine topics such as whale watching, animal performances, the objectification and commodification of animals and stakeholder conflict among a range of others. It is hoped that the book will help to highlight key research questions and stimulate other researchers and students to reflect critically on the place of animals within tourism spaces, experiences, practices and structures.

April 2015. A peer reviewed article is published in the Journal of Marine Mammal Science & becomes available to the scientific community& the public. Click HERE or on the image itself to be taken to a link for this article.

April 2015. This post on food deprivation at SeaWorld describes the practice. Click HERE or on the graphic image below to read the article.

January 2014. Written by journalist Elizabeth Batt for Decoded Science magazine, Drs. Ventre and Jett provide details about the damaging consequences of captivity on the teeth of captive killer whales. Click on the title of the article to be taken to the full piece. 

Damaged Teeth a Consequence of Captivity for Orcas

January 9, 2014 by Elizabeth Batt 7 Comments

Kayla at SeaWorld Florida exhibits open holes in her teeth. The holes are the result of a 'modified pulpotomy.'

Kayla at SeaWorld Florida is seen with open holes in her teeth, the consequence of a ‘modified pulpotomy.’ Image used with permission, courtesy of Sara Childers – all rights reserved.

With SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment under fire following the release of the documentary Blackfish, the corporation has repeatedly found itself on the defensive over consigning killing whales to captivity.

Former SeaWorld trainers, Drs. Jeffrey Ventre and John Jett, suggest that that there is one negative consequence of captivity for orcas that remains inarguable: irreversible tooth damage.

Ventre and Jett, who both had roles in the Blackfish film, have become outspoken critics of their former employer. Since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival last year, the documentary enjoyed a cinematic release before debuting on the CNN Network last October.

Recently shortlisted for ‘Best Documentary’ by the Academy Awards and by BAFTA (British Academy Film and Television Arts), the movie, which focuses on SeaWorld’s prime bull orca, Tilikum, and his killing of a trainer in 2010, also examines the consequences of keeping one of the ocean’s most intelligent marine mammals in captivity.


January 2013

Orca captivity and vulnerability to mosquito-transmitted viruses

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This peer reviewed journal article is a follow up to "Keto & Tilikum Express the Stress of Orca Captivity," also written by John Jett PhD and Jeffrey Ventre MD. 
Although unreported in wild orca populations, mosquito-transmitted diseases have killed at least two captive orcas (Orcinus orca) in U.S. theme parks. St. Louis Encephalitis Virus (SLEV) was implicated in the 1990 death of the male orca Kanduke, held at SeaWorld of Florida. In the second case, West Nile Virus (WNV) killed male orca Taku at SeaWorld of Texas in 2007. Captive environments increase vulnerability to mosquito transmitted diseases in a variety of ways. This paper looks at those various ways.

Orca captivity and vulnerability to mosquito-transmitted viruses  

In a new study, nearly a year in the making, former SeaWorld trainers Jeffrey Ventre, MD and John Jett, Ph.D, take us deep behind the scenes of Marine parks and their ability to provide environments adequate for keeping killer whales alive in captivity.

Drs Ventre and Jett introduce us to detailed observations and strong statistical calculations that add up to an abundance of evidence that captivity kills orcas, usually at a young age… and that stresses, social tensions and poor health are chronic issues in marine park facilities.

Born from this report, a new statistic called “Mean Duration of Captivity” (MDC), drawn from diverse credible sources, allows overall comparisons with free-ranging orcas and reveals a shockingly low average longevity in captivity.

In this research paper, which can also be viewed and downloaded in its’ entirety HERE  oren español, you’ll see the precursors and symptoms of stresses in orcas in captivity, illustrated with powerful photos. The authors invite students, teachers and the public to share these images and use them in their reports and projects.

 As former orca trainers, and now a medical doctor and biology professor respectively, Drs Ventre and Jett have a perspective that has not been heard in the intensifying debate about captivity for orcas: